The last time I spoke to Ed McIntyre was in 2003, just after he announced his hope of preserving the former home of Frank Yerby.
McIntyre acted a little surprised when I told him I'd like to help. He didn't know I had just donated a collection of Yerby books to the Augusta Museum of History.
Though he was a best-selling author, Yerby isn't well known in Augusta. Perhaps his local fame would have grown if he'd stayed here instead of moving to Spain in 1955. He died there in 1991.
Some believe Yerby left America because he was disillusioned with segregation. Yet in his early years as a writer, Yerby was criticized by fellow blacks for not dwelling on the plight of black people in his novels. He focused instead on just writing good stories.
McIntyre's interest in preserving Yerby's local roots makes even more sense in that light. McIntyre is being remembered not for what he did as Augusta's first black mayor so much as what he accomplished as mayor, period.
One of the people who know that best is now a Columbia County resident. Inez Wylds served 12 years on Augusta City Council, the first three with McIntyre as mayor. She was there when the bribery scandal brought him down, cutting McIntyre's mayoral stint short.
"In my lifetime awareness of Augusta politics, Ed McIntyre was the first visionary mayor Augusta had," Wylds said from her Leah home. Other mayors have treated Augusta as if the status quo would always last; "Ed McIntyre came along and he did have a vision for Augusta -- he really did. All these nice things you see and hear about him now, it's a pity he couldn't have gotten some of that before he died."
McIntyre could be accused of a lot of things, but letting the grass grow under his feet wasn't one of them. As mayor he dreamed of a tourist-attracting Riverwalk that would help downtown Augusta recover from the loss of traffic to suburbia.
Sadly, his conviction and prison sentence forever cut off the visionary from his vision. McIntyre resigned from office while under indictment in late 1983, was convicted and sent to federal prison in 1984 and released in 1985. His civil and political rights were restored three years later, but he was never able to return to office in spite of four attempts.
He was seeking a platform to bring his ideas back to the table, Wylds says, but just as important was the quest was "to redeem himself in the eyes of the public."
He'd already done so with Wylds, who wrote a letter in support of McIntyre's most recent candidacy for mayor -- even though McIntyre had once supported her opponent in a race for Augusta City Council.
She still believes it was McIntyre's vision for a changed Augusta -- not his skin color -- that made him the target of an FBI sting. Undeniably, the effect has been a cold wind blowing on Augusta's racial climate. Would Augusta's race relations have taken a better path if McIntyre had been able to continue to serve?
"I think it would have -- I truly do. Augusta would not be in the situation it is right now," Wylds said, noting that McIntyre transcended the good ol' boy system, white and black, that now misrules the city. Now watching the city crumble from a distance "just breaks my heart," Wylds says. "I don't know whether to laugh or cry."
Plenty of folks -- friends, family, acquaintances -- will be crying at the funeral Friday, mourning the loss of Ed McIntyre. Others will continue to mourn the loss of a brighter future Augusta might have had if only he'd rejected a bribe 21 years ago.
We have no way of knowing if Frank Yerby might be better-known if he'd stayed in Augusta. But the city would certainly be a better place if Ed McIntyre had stayed out of jail.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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